Marines’ New Ads Target Millennials

SAN DIEGO — The Marine Corps no longer needs just a “Few Good Men” as it looks to diversify. The elite force — embroiled in a scandal of online nude photo sharing — is highlighting how its warriors are also good citizens in an ad campaign aimed at millennials.

In one scene of the TV ads that aired Friday, Marines hoist “Toys for Tots” boxes. In another, real video shows a Marine veteran tackling an armed robber at a convenience store.

The “Battles Won” campaign has been in the works for months, but its release comes as the Marine Corps’ image has taken a beating amid an investigation into nude photos of female Marines posted without their consent on a private Facebook page used by Marines.

The Marine Corps is in the process of trying to boost its numbers and recruit more women, and the new TV ads include clips of women in combat fatigues, though some who viewed the ads said the spots did not do enough to attract more female recruits or show the Marine Corps culture is changing toward women.

Marine Corps officials said the campaign is not aimed at a particular demographic other than those of recruiting age. The Marine Corps shared the campaign with The Associated Press ahead of its official rollout Friday in conjunction with the first weekend of the hugely popular March Madness college basketball games.

The military’s smallest branch is also considering replacing its iconic tagline, “The Few. The Proud. The Marines,” one of the most successful ad campaigns of the 20th century.

The short, simple phrase highlighted the elite status given to Marine warfighters and drew recruits after the draft in the 1970s. It will continue for now as the Marine Corps’ tagline in promotional materials or on the backs of T-shirts.

Marine Corps officials said the branch needed a recruitment ad campaign that portrayed who Marines are and why the Marine Corps exists.

“Battles Won” is designed to drive home the message that mental, moral and emotional strength are as important as physical toughness. The campaign was created around three concepts, fighting self-doubt, fighting the nation’s battles and fighting for what’s right, officials said.

“It focuses on what we believe is the irreducible essence of a Marine — which is the fighting spirit,” said Lt. Col. John Caldwell, assistant chief of staff, marketing and public affairs at the Marine Corps Recruiting Command. “It’s the promise that we make that if there is a fight in which we engage in, we will win. We’ll win that battle and also become a responsible member of our community post-service.”

Polls have shown millennials value giving back more than previous generations.

The campaign comes as the 182,000-strong Marine Corps wants to add as many as 12,000 more troops and boost the percentage of women among its ranks to about 10 percent.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller acknowledged the nude photo scandal may hurt female recruiting. The force currently has the lowest percentage of all the services at about 8 percent.

Neller has vowed to hold Marines accountable for the Facebook scandal and acknowledged that changes have to be made in the Marine Corps culture, where some male Marines don’t accept women in the ranks.

A Los Angeles marketing specialist, Isaac Swiderski, said the Marine Corps missed the chance to change that with the new ad campaign. The Marine Corps should have shown women in leadership, rather than just struggling in the rigorous trainings.

“You got to show women in better positions than in these ads,” he said.

A Marine veteran in Los Angeles, Michael Hjelmstad, said the campaign could help balance the public’s view of the Marine Corps as it works to restore its image.

“Recent social media stuff has given a black eye to the whole family, and I think that’s something the Marine Corps needs to deal with in a way of branding. So I think it’s important now that they show what we’re all about,” he said. “I think this campaign is trying to speak to the breadth of what the Marine Corps really is.”
There have been other campaigns like “If Everybody Could Get In The Marines, It Wouldn’t Be The Marines” and “We’re Looking for a Few Good Men.”

But none has stuck like “The Few. The Proud. The Marines.” It was launched in 1977, a few years after the draft ended and the U.S. armed forces became an all-volunteer military. It is enshrined on the Advertising Walk of Fame on New York’s Madison Avenue and embodied the prestige and feeling of exclusivity of serving in a branch often referred to as a “brotherhood.” That stood out among ads for the other branches that highlighted steady employment and job training.

Despite its success, the Marine Corps is considering the possibility of inventing a new tagline that might resonate with today’s generation.

“Whether or not a new tagline is introduced is to be determined,” Caldwell said. He said he did not know when that decision would be made.

The latest ad campaign was crafted by J. Walter Thompson, the same ad agency that created “The Few. The Proud.”
Retired Marine Gary Solis, a Georgetown University law professor who served 26 years in the Corps, said the “Battles Won” message is diluted by trying to show the Marine Corps as a diverse organization that plays a role in everything from providing disaster relief to helping communities to fighting on the battlefield.

“What drew me into the Corps when I was 19 years old was that I was joining America’s Spartans,” he said. “I have nothing against community service or good citizenship, of course, but it seems to me the primary strength of the Marine Corps is its renown as superior warfighters. But I’m not a recruiter’s target anymore. Perhaps younger men and women are attracted by something different than I was. But I have my doubts.”

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